By: Alex MacPherson, Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management at Manhattan Associates
The last twelve months have been another particularly tough year for business all round, not least in the retail space. The positivity that surrounded the hope of mass global vaccinations in 2021 gradually gave way to the collective realisation that the pandemic is far from over. This was then replaced in the media and public spotlight by the challenges facing global supply chains in terms of staffing, sourcing and transporting goods.
As we look ahead to 2022, there are few industry experts that could have predicted the events of the last two years and even fewer willing to make any claims about what the remainder of the decade might look like from a retail or supply chain perspective.
We believe, that while it might be a little too short-sighted to make specific technology predictions, we do believe it is possible to identify some key ‘mega trends’ that will inevitably incorporate more specific areas of technology along the way – feel free to DM me this time next year to tell me how wrong (or right) I was!
AGILITY AND PREDICTABILITY
With the supply chain crunch of the last six months impacting peak season planning, plus ongoing challenges of the pandemic and an acceleration of shifting consumer expectations, the need to be agile at every level of an organisation is paramount.
The ability to meet these types of challenges requires the agility and scalability afforded by technologies like cloud and microservices. No longer are questions about the architecture of an organisation’s IT solely a question for the CIO – it is now a priority for COOs and CEOs too.
While predicting the changing consumer and industry landscape became more challenging for brands, juggling variables beyond simply the effects of the pandemic, the need to try to model and map scenarios became even more important too.
Thankfully, with the increasing digitisation of the supply chain, this means more data than ever before is being produced, and more data is good for predictive tools like digital twins – expect more emphasis on these types of data-fueled preemptive modelling tools in 2022.
Many commentators have long-predicted the eventual death of high-streets and physical, in-store shopping, however, the news that Amazon plans to open department stores in North America will give many retailers (big and small) hope for the future.
The news was a welcome boost for traditional high-street business models on the face of it, but it also raises a number of pressing questions for retailers, many of which have literally just weathered the challenges of the pandemic, only to find themselves confronted by a new, no less transformational storm on the horizon.
Establishing the right technology infrastructure, including everything from omnichannel and modern, connected Point-of-Sale systems, to order management and warehouse solutions, will give brands the flexibility, agility and scalability they need to face-off against this latest disruption heading their way.
To survive this next phase in Amazon’s evolution, retailers must prepare their systems and processes for a new marketplace that will be dominated by those brands that are able to deliver seamless, personalised shopping experiences across physical and digital channels.
Sticking to traditional models has already led to the demise of many high-street, retail stalwarts over the last two decades, so it’s very much a case of needing to adapt and prioritize to customer expectations, now. We see 2022 as an opportunity for all retailers (big and small) to double-down and go ‘all in’ on omnichannel.
Along with a renewed emphasis on omnichannel, we also expect the trend of moving the supply chain and goods closer to the consumer to gather pace strongly in 2022 too.
The benefits of micro-fulfilment centres and ‘dark stores’ (faster customer fulfilment, less miles travelled for delivery fleets, reducing CO2 emissions, quicker more efficient returns processes etc.) have largely been proven over the last 12 months. As the supply chain gets closer to consumers expect customer experiences to change and improve.
THE TALENT SHORTAGE
Whether it’s parcel pickers in warehouses or HGV drivers on the roads, the current crisis being caused by a lack of supply chain staff is clear and present for all to see.
While signing on bonuses and increased hourly rates of pay are certainly welcome (and many would argue overdue), the staffing crunch we’re witnessing at the moment is not something that can purely be fixed by throwing money at the problem.
The pandemic has certainly elevated employee well-being and we expect this increased focus will continue to gain momentum in the New Year.
Providing supply chain and retail workers with the most intuitive, easy to use technology in their roles is no longer a ‘nice to have’ option for organisations, it’s a must, and the need to engage and empower employees is more critical than ever before.
At a time where retailers and their supply chains are in crisis, building loyalty, empowering employees (in stores, warehouses or those driving the trucks), keeping workers safe, and maintaining operational efficiencies through people-first technology will be absolutely paramount in 2022 and well beyond too.